In Frederick, Maryland, there is a bridge painted with trompe l’oeil murals and slant art. I visited the bridge to see its optical illusions. I came away with the story of its creation – a profoundly moving tale of community achievement.
In early 1993, artist William Cochran proposed the painted bridge project because of the structure’s strategic location at the urban center of the long-planned Carroll Creek Park, Frederick’s key economic development project. This linear park site is positioned along the symbolic racial and economic dividing line in the city.
The painted bridge park plan was stalled by controversy and disagreement until, at the encouragement of the artist, the project engaged the participation of the community to build a symbol of common ground, of “community” of “shared vision”. Cochran reached out to all 173,000 residents of Frederick to contribute ideas to the bridge artwork, to become co-creators with the artist. As word spread about the project, thousands of symbols of community were also received from people as far away as Bosnia, Nova Scotia, South Africa, Argentina, Indonesia, India, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands. Countless ideas were collected and they shaped every part of the bridge mural.
The “Mural Bridge” has become a symbol for shared values all over the world, of connection and community spirit. It draws tens of thousands of visitors to Frederick every year, and the money they spend attracts development and fosters revitalization efforts in the city, bringing needed jobs downtown. The project is a model that demonstrates the efficiency and reach of participatory public art, showing that it can be an economic, social and cultural asset simultaneously.